Showing The Way In The Aftermath Of Tragedy

As a social studies teacher, other than the daily worry about particular students, I felt the most anxiety about my practice the day after an atrocity. How do I teach students about these events and not terrify or discourage them from engaging in the world?

I felt paralyzed in having to face them, ready to answer the why question, or ready to exude certainty that this event was surely an anomaly. Adding to the challenge for teachers today is that students sit in our classrooms full of vivid images of the events from popular media, which fuels the fire of helplessness and doom. Because the world of late has given us so much to explain and reassure them about, this anxiety is hard to shake.

And yet, teachers influence the way students make sense of a catastrophic event likely more than anyone. As teachers we know that the real power in experiences is in the sense-making — in the stories we tell in the aftermath, and how these stories direct how we live.

The events this past weekend in Paris show us the two sides of atrocity — the attack and our response. While events like the terrorist attack in Paris, or the one just a day earlier in Beirut, cause us to question the state of the world and how we create such anger, they also strengthen our resolve to help each other and work together with love toward safety and peace. As a counterpoint to the vivid details of terror in the streets, we see the organic growth of the social media phenomenon #PorteOuverte (#OpenDoor) — Parisians offering a safe place to those alone — and the willingness of people to help in the face of deep fear.

We, as teachers, matter even more on days like today. We model sense-making and sticking together. Through stories, we will illuminate the light and heart in the middle of such darkness. And we will say things like Mr. Rogers did that somehow help us make it through:

Mr. Rogers quote

As teachers, we are the helpers for our students and for each other, whether we’re ready or not. As fellow teachers and colleagues, we process and persevere and show up to pull together. The attacks in Paris and Beirut, like so many other tragedies, will tear at our very being while also knit us together in ways we might not have imagined. But it’s up to us to show the way.

If you are feeling unsure about the coming days, let’s turn to our Teaching Channel community and partner up for strength and resolve. How are you thinking about your first conversations with your students? What resources or ideas are providing you with a path? How can we help each other? We at Teaching Channel are with you, dear teachers, as you lead our students out and toward the light.

Erika Nielsen Andrew has been a high school teacher, administrator, coach, researcher, facilitator, network leader, and designer of professional learning in the Bay Area for 27 years before she joined Teaching Channel as our Chief Academic Officer. Follow Erika on Twitter: @thenewready or email her at: eandrew@teachingchannel.org.

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